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Libya: civilians at high risk amid escalating conflict

19-03-2011 News Release 11/65

Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is deeply concerned about the intensification in recent days of the fighting in and around densely populated centres in Libya, with the consequent risk to civilian lives.

As airstrikes in Libya by international forces begin, the ICRC calls upon all parties – the international forces, the Libyan government forces, and the armed opposition – to abide strictly by the rules and principles of international humanitarian law.

In accordance with its mandate, the ICRC appeals to all those involved in the hostilities to comply with international law. In particular, they must distinguish at all times between civilians and fighters. "Attacks that directly target the civilian population are strictly prohibited by international humanitarian law," said Yves Daccord, ICRC director-general. "That law also prohibits the use of human shields. Indiscriminate attacks are likewise strictly prohibited. The parties must take all precautions, including in their choice of means and methods of warfare, to avoid as far as possible harming civilians."

Persons not directly participating in the hostilities – including combatants who surrender or who are no longer capable of fighting because they are wounded or have been captured – must not be attacked and must be treated humanely.

"We urge the parties to the conflict to allow humanitarian organizations safe access to war-affected areas and to enable medical personnel and ambulances to reach the wounded," Daccord said.

The ICRC has been present in eastern Libya for more than three weeks, since shortly after violence broke out a month ago. The organization is active on the ground and stands ready to further increase its humanitarian activities. It is supporting local medical teams and working closely with the Libyan Red Crescent to alleviate the plight of civilians affected by the conflict. It has also visited detainees in Benghazi. At the same time, the ICRC continues to seek access to other regions of Libya, in particular the western part of the country.

For further information, please contact:
Carla Haddad Mardini, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 217 32 26
Steven Anderson, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 79 536 92 50

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